Vid Mohan-Ram – J.R. Simplot Company
Vid Mohan-Ram views life through a “what if?” lens. What if I applied my PhD in genetics and molecular biology to perform fingerprinting and gene screening of purebred dogs? What if, as a lawyer, I helped streamline and simplify the complicated IP process? What if I used my breadth of experience to encourage others to broaden their careers?
The native of London, England, applies his eclectic expertise as the first chief intellectual property counsel for J.R. Simplot Company. His goal, he says, is to rebrand the Boise, Idaho-based food and agriculture business’ IP division and emphasize its long history of innovation.
Mohan-Ram, who was initially drawn to the creative aspects of IP law, says, “You can be much more proactive than other legal disciplines in having healthy, robust, comprehensive brainstorming. It’s one of the few disciplines where you can have blue sky kind of discussions about ingenuity and creativity and inspire someone’s imagination.”
Not small (or simple) potatoes
J.R. Simplot was founded 90 years ago as a small supplier of potato products. Today, the company, still run by the Simplot family, has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise providing services around seed production, farming, fertilizer manufacturing, frozen food processing and food brands and distribution.
The company’s namesake founder Jack Simplot was an entrepreneurial eighth-grade dropout. In the 1940s, he created the first commercially viable frozen French fries.
Today? The company has thousands of registered trademarks, at least 400 global patents and another 500 or so global patents pending, according to Mohan-Ram. That’s not to mention “hundreds and hundreds” of common law trademarks—that is, intellectual property used in commerce, he explains.
To get a handle on all of this, Mohan-Ram recently completed a two-year audit of the company’s global trademarks and intellectual property. All that information is now aggregated in an easily accessible corporate database.
“For the first time, at our fingertips, we have every single trademark that we hold around the world,” he explains. The goal is to then implement multimedia and other supplementary information into these IP databases to facilitate employee use. That way, he can “stand back” and let business leaders focus on larger issues, such as the impact IP has on their research.
He also aims to build a robust inventory of the company’s trade secrets—for example, its recipes, business plans or methods of market research.
All of this, Mohan-Ram says, allows the company to craft a comprehensive and sensible program for IP oversight and enforcement, including how the company decides to file for patents or analyze legal issues pertaining to advertising, communications, social media, promotional materials, endorsements and testimonials.
“It’s fascinating to get into the philosophy and psychology of brands, colors, how things resonate with people, how you go about building a presence in the marketplace,” he says.
A natural educator, Mohan-Ram speaks to local organizations, such as the Idaho Technology Council and the IP Committee of the Idaho State Bar. He focuses on nonlegal aspects of the profession—such as moral, ethical and business questions—as well as ways to counsel and inform clients on IP decisions. Similarly, he created an IP externship program with the University of Idaho Law School and Concordia University School of Law, both of which have campuses in downtown Boise. Students have helped organize online resources, he notes. One extern spent a semester establishing a criteria matrix for valuing trademarks.
“It gives students who are passionate about IP the opportunity to gain hands-on experience about IP and to learn how to clearly communicate what they’re working on,” Mohan-Ram says. “I consider it one of my duties to help with the talent pool in Boise, the local area and IP in general.”
Blending diverse talents
Mohan-Ram, who holds a Juris Doctor and a PhD in genetics and molecular biology, may just have found the perfect role at the intersection of his talents and interests in law, science, philosophy and writing.
He has always been fascinated by biology, genetics, evolution and the idea of the creation of life and space, he says. He grew up visiting the Natural History Museum in London and began entering science writing contests and publishing science articles. He was particularly intrigued by forensics, genetic engineering and DNA.
After receiving his Bachelor of Science from Kingston University, he earned his doctorate in genetics and molecular biology from the University of London. His PhD involved DNA fingerprinting and muscle genetics testing of different dog breeds to help determine breed-specific profiles and gene expression patterns. He continued this muscle genetics research during his postdoctoral work at the University of Vermont’s biophysics and molecular physiology department.
Later, Mohan-Ram began working as an editor and writer for “Science Magazine,” focusing on alternative careers for scientists who no longer wanted to work in the lab, but instead apply their expertise toward scholarly pursuits. One of the subjects they hit upon: IP property law.
Intrigued by the discipline himself, he earned his J.D. from The John Marshall Law School. This while working as a technical specialist and then a patent agent for a large nationwide law firm and later serving as a liaison between inventors and patent attorneys. The J.R. Simplot Company was one of his first clients.
Today he tries to impress upon other attorneys and colleagues that they should draw their own interests and capabilities—however unrelated they may seem—into their day-to-day profession. For example, he uses his writing skills to help people avoid “legalese,” and his aptitude for painting and sketching to help illustrate complex legal principles.
“There’s a diverse, cutting-edge amount of work that I’m exposed to inside and outside,” Mohan-Ram says of J.R. Simplot. “It’s an amazing, rich environment to grow personally and professionally.”
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